TOM Elliott admitted it took him some time to find his feet at Millwall – after he was applauded off the pitch by Lions fans following his match-winning goal against Aston Villa at The Den on Saturday.
Elliott pounced in the 48th minute to fire home to make it 2-1, after Shane Ferguson had cancelled out Tammy Abraham’s early opener.
It was just Elliott’s 11th league start for the Lions since his free-transfer switch from AFC Wimbledon in the summer of 2017, and only the second time he has started consecutive Championship games after he and Lee Gregory played up front in the 2-2 comeback draw at Nottingham Forest last Wednesday.
The pair appear to be developing an understanding, with Gregory delivering one of his best performances in a Lions shirt at the weekend.
Elliot was warmly received by the home support when he was substituted in the 74th minute, and Neil Harris made a point of telling the centre-forward how well he had done.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve been patient, waiting for my chance, waiting for my chance,” Elliott said. “When I got my chance I just wanted to do well. Going from Wednesday to today, it was better for me, I could build from Wednesday and build into it, learn from my mistakes and just get in a bit of a rhythm. It helped me get my match fitness, my understanding with the team, because coming off the bench sometimes it’s 100 miles an hour. When you’re starting it’s different.
“It was a lot better to start a couple of games in a row and just be more a part of the team, even though when you’re on the bench you’re still part of it. It put a smile on my face because I’ve been waiting for this chance for a long time. It gave me that confidence and belief, and I got a goal and got to help the team get three points. It’s made me feel very good about myself.
“[Harris] just said he was really happy for me to get the goal, to continue from Wednesday’s performance. He was happy and just happy we got the three points because the team needed it and deserved it, I’d say. I was just happy for the team, everyone that’s part of the club. It was a big day for us.”
"It was Elliott’s first league goal at The Den in over a year, but he insisted he didn’t feel the pressure to end that scoreless run.
“No, not really, I scored in the cup [against Fulham] the other week. My goal ratio [to starts] for Millwall has not been too bad. I always want to score goals and I’m happy I could help the team
“You know what you’re going to get when you’re coming here, and it took me a while to get used to it. I’m a part of it now and used to it, and the fans have been brilliant, they always travel away, travel at home and it’s been a good experience for me.
“They will always support the team. We finished eighth last year because the fans led us on, always supported us. Hopefully we can get up the table this year and see what happens.”
Millwall have four strikers battling for two spots this season, but after their performances in the last two games, the current front two will be difficult to dislodge from the starting side.
Elliott paid tribute to his strike partner on Saturday.
“Gregs is a minimum seven out of 10 every week, today I thought he was excellent, he was my man of the match,” Elliott said.
“All the boys were excellent, but obviously as a striker I’m biased. Gregs works so hard, he’s a small striker but he plays like a big man at times. I love Greg to bits, he’s a great character off the pitch as well.
“We needed to get the three points, we dug deep and got them. We did well to come back [at Forest] and today it worked out well for us.
“We’ve had a few results go against us, we knew we had to dig deep and just be ruthless and see out the game. All the boys are buzzing.”
"Millwall’s victory over Villa was just their second in the Championship this season, and ended a run of eight league games without a win. Villa sacked Steve Brice last week after one win in nine league games.
Elliott said Millwall’s team spirit didn’t suffer through their own difficult run, and he revealed that it is Harris who sets the tone for the squad and keeps morale high.
“The changing room has been brilliant all season, we’ve all stuck together and we showed it on the pitch that we could do it,” Elliott continued.
“[Villa] have got their own problems at the minute, changing manager and stuff. So we knew it was the best time to play them, and we had a point to prove. No team wants to come to The Den because we’re always going to be at it, and we were. We showed our character and our fight.
“They’ve got very good players, [Jack] Grealish, [Ahmed] Elmohamady, players that have played in the Prem [Premier League]. We showed our quality by beating that side and I’m proud of all my team-mates. Everyone is buzzing to be going into the international break three points better off.
“The main thing we do is work hard, but we’ve got so much quality in the team. Because we work hard, we fight, because of our name ‘Millwall’, sometimes it’s forgotten the quality in the team. We can never, ever forget how hard we work and how much we want to succeed.
“The changing room hasn’t changed. I’ve been on the bench and when I’ve come on I’ve wanted to affect it. Everyone is together at the minute, we’ve got good team morale. [When] I came to this club I was welcomed here. That was one of the biggest things for me coming here from a team like Wimbledon where we had a good morale. I saw the players’ togetherness here, everyone bonds with each other.
“I think it comes from the gaffer. Say if we lose, obviously he’ll tell us what we need to be told, but then on the Monday he’ll come in bubbly. He’ll get it off his chest but he’ll come in and get us going again.
“It’s the players he’s signed. He’s signed players who are going to work hard, who are down-to-earth normal people. Friendly people who are going to work hard and be together. It’s his team that he’s put together, and it’s working for him.”
Millwall now have two weeks during the international break before their next league game at Reading.
Elliott added: “It does come at the wrong time because we’ve started to hit form. But we’ve had a hectic schedule: Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Wednesday.
“It will let the boys recover a bit more so we can go into the Reading game having prepared properly with fresh legs.
“The gaffer’s not going to let us slip, he’s going to build on Wednesday and today and make sure we’re firing at Reading. The boys won’t let their standards slip.”
Image: Millwall FC